The inquiry focused on the impact of leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and whether the Government’s proposals will deliver on its ambitions to both increase farm competitiveness and enhance the environment.
The report responds to the Government’s Consultation, ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit.’
The Committee is calling on the Government to ring-fence funding for farming post-Brexit, provide much greater details on its new support mechanisms for farmers, and ensure environmental and welfare standards are maintained on products entering Britain.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said:
“A new funding model for agriculture is essential for the future prosperity of UK farming. As we leave the EU we must ensure that we maintain our standards, and that those importing into the UK meet our high standards of production.
“The Government should commit to funding the future agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds, consider new support mechanisms such as tax breaks and capital grant support, ensure that trade agreements demand that imported products meet our standards, and avoid a regulatory race to the bottom.
“Defra’s consultation is ambitious and we welcome much of its intent. There is a notable lack of detail in the Government’s paper, however, and we seek more clarity on funding, delivery, and timing. The Government risks not achieving its ambition and risks damaging the sector. The Government should respond to the farming sector’s concerns and provide clarity as soon as possible.
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
Our report highlights the need for the Government to produce a thorough sectoral assessment of these impacts to identify support for small and medium-sized farms and should commit to ring fencing the funds released to fund the rural economy and environment. Withdrawing Direct Payments will have a varied impact between sectors, and particularly damaging effects will be felt by grazing livestock, cereal and mixed farms.
Agricultural productivity is in decline and the UK is falling behind its competitors, the White Paper fails to address the barriers to productivity and so will not support the Government’s ambitions for farming in England. It should produce a farm productivity plan by May 2019 that investigates new tax breaks, advice centres, capital grant support and the successor to the agri-tech fund, amongst other areas of exploration.
Environmental Public Goods
There is broad support for including animal health and welfare within Defra’s public money for public goods policy, but the paper has failed to consider wider food policy with public impact such as reducing diet-related diseases. It should support healthy food in payment models to farming, and bring forward changes to Government buying standards and ensure use of healthy, affordable and British food in Government procurement.
Further, it will be challenging for Defra to find the right body to coordinate its national public goods framework, and to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ in standards as the industry sheds EU regulation. The Government should assess which public bodies can coordinate the environmental land management system.
Trade and labelling
Defra’s involvement in agri-food negotiations is positive, and the Committee is calling on the Government to ensure that trade agreements always prevent agri-food products that do not meet our environmental, animal welfare and food standards from entering the country. This will be supported by the Committee’s recommendation to improve country of origin food labelling.
Once the UK leaves the EU, the Government plans to incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions. It intends to do this by leaving the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and implementing a new system based on paying public money for public goods.
The Government published its agriculture consultation ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’ on 27 February 2018. This paper consults on a new domestic settlement for agriculture in England which will help deliver the Government’s ambitions to “provide better support for farmers and land managers who maintain, restore, or create precious habitats for wildlife”. The results of this consultation will inform the upcoming Agriculture Bill, due later in 2018.
Agricultural policy is a devolved issue, as are other areas of legislation relating to farming. The consultation focuses on the approach to be adopted in England but notes that the UK Government and devolved administrations are working together to determine common frameworks in areas that are currently governed by EU law.
The Committee took evidence from six panels of witnesses to hear different sectors’ analyses of the Government’s proposals. Our final oral evidence session was held on 2 May 2018 with George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.